Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Home stretch

It never fails: you plan out what you want to get done before vacation, and the week promptly goes kablooey.

By the time I got home last night, I was so worn out from the constant interruptions and odd requests that I could have sworn it was Wednesday - wishful thinking.

Not much going on other than trying to get ready to get out of here for a week. I'm hoping to pick up my new contacts tonight (Long story short: they didn't order them until two week after my appointment, when I called the second time to find out if they were in yet. They promised to expedite the order; that was last Friday), because if I can't, I can't do it until Saturday. I don't really want to spend the first day of vacation at the eye doctor.

It must be something in the air. Yesterday, I had the worst customer service I've ever had, anywhere at a fast food place (Looking at you, Dunkin). The traffic has been much heavier than usual, and much more...erratic. People seem a bit twitchy.

The first few days of my vacation are going to be rather summer-like, with temps up in the mid-seventies. Good thing, as I want to get all the fall cleaning, mulching and trimming done sometime that week. I may even (finally) wash the windows. The date of our average first frost locally is October 18th or so.

Craft day, a friend coming over for lunch and talk and a housewarming party to attend are the main social events during the time off. The rest of the time will be devoted to sewing, cleaning, organizing, reading, day trips and sleep, blessed sleep.

On the organizing front, I'm listening to a book by a Japanese author on the subject of decluttering. I get a kick out of the fact that she consistently calls it "tidying". What a kinder, more housewifely word. The book was free, but in order to listen to it on the Kindle I needed to start a trial for Audible. Listening to audio books is not something I do on a regular basis, not even something I enjoy. I need the page in front of me to pay attention. Hopefully, I can figure out where on Amazon to cancel the automatic enrollment in the paid version of Audible before the trial runs out.

Oh, yeah - and finish listening to the book. That option of speeding playback - in my case, to 1.5x - is a lifesaver.

I better get back to the kablooey. We'll see who else has a last minute request for something they've known about for two weeks...

Friday, October 02, 2015

A great weekend for soup

The weekend is almost here, thank heaven. This morning's 5 a.m. temperature was 55 degrees; it's dropped to 52 now. A strong north east wind is actually helping us stay warmer than we would otherwise be, as the waters of Lake Michigan are still fairly warm (59 degrees right now, in fact; we'd be warmer swimming, I guess).

All this to say it is perfect sleeping weather. An open window, a couple of quilts to snuggle under, and off to dreamland. There's nothing like spending an extra half hour after you wake up, cozy in that warm little nest you've made of the quilts, knowing how chilly it is outside of it.

While I placed a Peapod order last night, I deliberately left apples (which I desperately need; I'm completely out, and I always have apples in the house) off the list, in hopes that I can stop at a local orchard tonight after work. I'm not much for the pick-them-yourself thing unless I get a discounted price for doing the work, but this place has a great store.

Lots of soup-related things on the grocery list. The plan is to make several types of soup, including Pumpkin Soup with Basil, Mushroom Barley and Chicken with Wild Rice. Two of those soups are actually quasi-vegetarian, containing no non-vegetable protein. The barley has a little bit, but not enough to counter the carbs.

While I'm not averse to eating a vegetarian meal, the combination of carbs-fat-protein is the magic for diabetics. Cheese, whether melted on the soup or in a couple of slices on the side, is a quick way to add protein, but it also adds a fair amount of fat. Oddly enough, turkey pepperoni is low in fat, high in protein and (if you get the uncured type made by Applewood), low in sodium. It's also pretty tasty.

The only barrier to the festival of soup making is the availability of wild rice. Peapod simply does not carry it. They have lots of blends - primarily brown rice with some short thin spaghetti and a tablespoon or so of real wild rice - but no plain packages of wild rice itself. Frustrating, since wild rice is very much a Wisconsin staple - the Menomonee Indians were known as the "wild rice people", as the rice was such an important part of their culture.

Eh, I can probably get it at an actual supermarket, or I can wait until the week I'm off and pick it up on a trip to The Elegant Farmer, which is a haven for Wisconsin product. I'll certainly have enough other soup to sip on.

So that's the weekend plan: put away the grocery order and fool around in the kitchen. What are your plans?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


It's always fun when you see God making provisions in your life for what is important.

I sponsor a sweet little girl in El Salvador through Compassion International. In addition to a very low monthly payment that provides the basics of the program (which is really awesome - check it out!), I have an opportunity every year to provide additional gifts, including Christmas and birthday gifts.

When I chose Idalia, I had just a few criteria: 1. A child who had been waiting a long time for a sponsor, 2. A girl, and 3. Someone who shared my January 8th birthday (so I wouldn't forget).

Silly me, I didn't factor in that because of the time involved in getting the funds transferred and gifts purchased (you send the cash to Compassion, who sends it to the center your child attends, who then buy gifts locally - and you always get a picture later of your child with their gifts - such fun!), that I would have to decide on and pay for the gifts in October, the one month of the year my expenses are heaviest.

This year wasn't looking good, and I wasn't sure I'd have the extra cash I needed beyond enough for the basic Christmas gift. But I didn't figure in God.

When I went to set up the payment for my utility bill this morning, I discovered it was the end of the budget billing period. My settlement balance? A $16 credit. I owe them nothing this month.

The amount I didn't have to pay for utilities on the budget this month is pretty much exactly what I needed to match the gifts I made last year for Christmas, Idalia's birthday and a family gift (funds are used for things Idalia's family needs).

How cool is that?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

National Coffee Day

It is National Coffee Day, but for those of us who regularly partake of the bean-flavored water, it may as well be any other day. Well, except for our multiple stops at the places offering free or discount brews.

While I realized what day it was, I'm a bit fuzzy before I've had any caffeine. I ended up paying full price for coffee (less the discount for bringing my own travel mug) at Starbucks this morning. I may have to swing through Krispy Kreme later, though, as they are giving away a doughnut as well as the drink. That sounds like a good dinner, no?

They are desperate for content for this month's meeting of the business managers for the various units across campus, so I'm putting together a short presentation on tax.

Yeah, even I need more coffee for this one.

My overall public speaking profile includes plenty of gentle humor; tax tend to be dry (um, understatement, much?) and the humor helps keep people awake. In the grand university tradition, there are even a couple of single-question pop quizzes - "XYZ University is tax exempt" - that are actually trick questions (answer: it depends).

There is a chance I won't have to make the presentation this month (meeting is Thursday), if our vice president is available to speak on the budget/strategic plan. He rather likes to talk. I don't think I'll know whether I'm on or off more than a couple of hours before the meeting, though.

You see, in my pre-coffee haze, I managed to park my car in the space that the meeting organizer usually uses.

It may be time to start making coffee at home in the mornings - and drinking a cup or two before I leave the house.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The morning after

Well, we are all here this morning, how about that?

The clouds cleared over southeastern Wisconsin last night just in time for most of the harvest-moon, super-moon, blood-moon, fourth-blood-moon-in-the-tetrad deathstar performance.

I could see a bit of it out the upstairs window, though obscured by a tree. Never did see any red color - it really just looked as if the moon went behind a symmetrical, very, very slow moving cloud, then crept out the other side of it. Honestly, the moon setting this morning was more spectacular, bright white against a deep blue morning sky.

There is a subset of my friends who, though for the most part very rational, have been anticipating this event with an almost unholy amount of glee. Predictions of economic collapse, signs in the sky and the rise of a one world power abounded. Pretty much anything can be twisted to fit their narrative (the stock market decline weeks ago was hailed as the economic collapse they anticipated, even though "it happened earlier than they expected" - yeah, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, people).

I love my friends, and when they start on this, I mostly nod and smile and change the subject. But inside my head...

Seriously, dude?

Scripture is very, very clear that no one knows the timing of the end except God. It's not that there are hidden "codes" in the Bible that will point the super smart, holy people to the exact timing of everything, it's that the time simply has not, and will not be revealed ahead of time.

Paul wrote the following to Titus:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ

Titus 2:11 - 13

Paul is clear that we are waiting for the return of Jesus. But he is equally clear on what we should be doing while we wait, and it has nothing to do with scouring Scripture and ancient writings for "proof" that the world will end on such-and-such a day, or that certain contemporary world events are sure signs of an imminent end.

What does he say we should do?

Live like you follow Christ, not the world. Work on your faith, root out any persistent sin, steep yourself in the truths about God revealed in His word. Live out your faith rather than just giving lip service.

Time is much better spent that way than in idle speculation.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Scott Walker has officially suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination. It's too bad; he would have made an excellent president.

Personally, I'm blaming Donald Trump. His ego-driven, loudmouthed, reality-television type "campaign" is splitting potential voters into the truly informed (a fairly small percentage) and those who believe everything the media tells them (those who elected the previous president). If Trump really wants to support this country, believes in conservatism and wants to see the Republicans retake the White House, he would drop out of the race immediately.

His success gives a boost to several other candidates from outside politics. I understand the urge to support someone who is not associated with the morass that is our political system, but the reality is that a certain amount of insider knowledge is needed if a chief executive is going to be effective. Proven leadership ability (and I'm not sure Trump, Carson or Fiorina have shown that) must go hand in hand with an understanding of how day-to-day politics work.

She-who-must-not-be-named made a very telling statement regarding her non-political rivals. She said that they have no qualifications for the presidency because they "don't understand politics" (not an exact quote; it was really early in the morning when I heard it). It's interesting that she is harping on their lack of political skill, rather than their lack of leadership ability. Almost as if she is afraid to do so, lest her own leadership track record be brought up.

She can't have that, can she?


There is hope: this morning I saw a headline and article actually critical of Trump. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end?

One can only hope.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The rest of the weekend

Making soup wasn't the only thing I did this weekend. I have two quilt challenges due before the end of the month and an embroidery project for a friend to do. My goal was to at least get the larger quilt project pieced, and the smaller one designed, before the weekend was over. I made a little more progress than that:

Wild Goose 20" challenge quilt September
Through the Prism Challenge

The angle on this is a bit odd, but this is the mini quilt for September, based off the wild goose chase block I posted on last week. Looking at it, I probably should have added a straight line of geese in the lower left corner, leading up to the geese that circle around. Eh. The point is the play on words, as there is a "wild" goose going off on his own in the upper right. The focal color I chose for September is orange. The background is a marbled grey batik. This is all pinned together, ready for quilting.

Owls again - 8 x 10" mug rug

It's a bit blurry, but this is a "mug rug" - a small quilt, generally the size of a letter size piece of paper or smaller, though not always rectangular. Right now, it's considerably oversize - made that way to make sure I'd be able to put the owl where I want it. This is for an exchange. The person I am sending to likes bright colors, birds and cats. So I went ahead with another owl on a bright blue background. The fill quilting in the background will be fancy feathers, I think. 

This last bit is an embroidery project for a friend. He had a quote he wanted embroidered so it would look like "his grandma made it". There are some limits with the size of font I can use and still have it both pretty and legible (this one is 1/2"). Because it's a font rather than an alphabet, each letter needs to be chosen and aligned separately. Once I had it all in, I changed the colors on the screen and hit the "combine like colors" button so that the sewing computer realized all the lettering was the same color and not separate motifs.

Oh - language warning, too.

Matt's quote

The colors are off in the picture. The lettering is a bit brighter, and the flower is a pretty peach. I still need to cut off all the thread tails and the jump stitches (thread carried over between stitches), but I think I have a frame that will fit that already has embroidery stretchers.

And that is pretty much it for the weekend, other than doing a little more cooking and a lot of dishes. Which reminds me - I loaded the dishwasher last night, and still haven't run it...

Zuppa Toscana

As much as I lament the changes in service philosophy at Olive Garden, I still love their Zuppa Toscana. Mr. Google was able to provide a recipe for a knock-off of this delightful soup, which I threw together yesterday.

Here's the basic recipe; notes on my changes come after.

Zuppa Toscana

1 pound Italian sausage, removed from casings
2 russet potatoes, cut in half lengthwise and then cut into 1/4" slices
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups kale, chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1 quart (4 cups) water
1 cup heavy cream

Brown sausage in soup pot, crumbling into small pieces as it browns. Add chicken broth and water to pot; stir.

Add onions, potatoes and garlic. Cook on medium heat until potatoes are tender. Taste; add salt and pepper to taste.

Turn heat to low. Add kale and cream, heat through and serve.

Serves 4 - 6

Use whatever spiciness level of sausage floats your boat, Rather than removing the sausage from the casings if you have links, you can slice it thinly (less work), but I find the sausage is better distributed through the soup if it's loose. You may want to put a bit of olive oil in your pot to keep the sausage from sticking (I did). If you leave the potato skins on (I did), it makes a more rustic soup (less work). You can use chopped, frozen kale (I did; less work) instead of fresh. Since it's going into a liquid, it doesn't make any difference in texture or taste to make the substitution. You also aren't left with the rest of a bunch of kale to incorporate into other recipes before it gets all slimy in the refrigerator (not that I'm speaking from experience or anything).

Finally, I ended up using four cups of chicken broth and two cups of water, rather than two and four. Stock-in-a-box, which is what I had, comes 4 cups to a box. I had no immediate use for the two cups that would have been left over had I followed the recipe proportions. In the end, I'm not sure it made much difference in the final flavor. Oh - and absolutely use real heavy cream, not milk. There isn't that much of it when divided amongst the portions, and you cannot duplicate the creamy richness using milk.

It does taste very much like the soup they serve at Olive Garden. My only regret is that I didn't have any crusty bread on hand to go along with it.

The rather quick preparation means this can be made even on a weeknight. It's going into the regular fall-winter-early spring soup rotation at my house.